The first week of the legislative session is now complete! The week began with the swearing in of a completely new House and Senate including over 50 freshmen in the House! I am looking forward to working with all of my colleagues, both returning representatives and new ones, as we work to make Kansas a better place. I truly believe this session represents a great, historic opportunity to do great things on behalf of our state.
am happy to note my family joined me at the Capitol for our swearing in on Monday. I've included multiple photos of the day. The boys, as children do, are getting so big. It is always amazing to see how much they obsorb of the legislative and election process.
Now, as for the first week’s business…
Committee Assignments / Office Information
I’m very happy to report my office is actually in the Capitol this year! My office is 274-W and my phone number is 785-296-7659. I encourage you to stop by!
I am also quite honored to have been appointed Vice Chair of the Education Budget Committee. I also will be serving on the Education Committee and Appropriations. Here is my regular committee schedule:
Education Budget – 3:30 p.m. – Daily in Room 281N
Education – 1:30 p.m. – Daily in Room 112N
Appropriations – 9:00 a.m. – Daily in Room 112N
In addition, I have been appointed to the Legislative Education Planning Committee.
As you might know, education is by far the biggest item in our annual budget so these assignments will provide me a great deal of insight and input into this critical topic.
After the Monday's ceremonies, there was a post -Swearing In reception in which KC Chief's great Len Dawson was a guest. We enjoyed meeting and speaking with him. He told the boys about growing up in a large family.
Last week, we received the “jolt” of news when a three-judge panel ruled that the state legislature MUST fund education at a set level in the base state aid per pupil. I strongly disagree with this ruling, because no matter what one’s feeling is on the issue of school funding, it is not the role of the courts to order specific appropriations – that is the role of the legislature, duly elected by the people.
While this ruling will be appealed, if it were eventually upheld and enforced, it would have the practical impact of forcing massive tax increases. It also only addresses one part of the funding formula.
The other major highlight of this week was Governor Brownback’s State of the State address on Tuesday night. Here are some of the highlights:
The governor called on the legislature to cut income taxes further so as to glide to zero state income tax. In committee this week the governor’s office proposed dropping the bottom bracket to 2.5% in 2014 and then to 1.9% in 2016. Dropping the top rate from 4.9% to 3.5% in 2017 was also proposed. Rather than expanding government, the governor has asked that any revenue that comes in above 4% during this time be used to buy down the tax liability of Kansans. The plan would leave the current sales tax rate in place and eliminate the state home mortgage deduction.
The governor addressed the topic of judicial reform in Kansas, altering the way our appellate court justices our chosen, both at the Appeals Court level as well as at the Supreme Court, either allowing for direct elections or a system based on the federal model. The Appeals Court change would be statutory only, while a change to the Supreme Court would take a Constitutional Amendment, which requires 2/3 of each chamber to pass, as well as an affirmative vote of the people.
The governor is proposing a 2 year budget rather than a normal one year budget. By submitting a two year budget, the governor is encouraging the 2013 legislature to address the budget challenges for both FY14 and FY 15. The budget protects Base State Aid Per Pupil, leaving it at its current level of $3,838, and will protect essential services for Kansans in need, and fully funds T-Works. Perhaps, most importantly, the budget would leave the state with the constitutionally mandated 7.5% ending balance.
The governor proposes to combine the Kansas Turnpike Authority into the Kansas Department of Transportation, which would remove some duplications.
Though I need to learn more about the pros and cons of these issues, I do know that I am not in favor of continuing the sales tax at its current rate and believe we should honor the sunset that was established when the sales tax was increased in 2010. As I learn more about these proposals, I will keep you appraised.
More on Education
Before I conclude, I want to talk to you a little bit more about the education issue and the facts surrounding it. I addressed this briefly above but want to reveal some more facts.
Last Friday, in the case of Gannon v. State, a Shawnee County District Court issued a ruling stating that the legislature has not provided suitable funding for public schools. The court opined that in order for public schools to be adequately funded, the Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP) needs to be increased from $3,838 to $4,492 which equates to a $442 million increase in state education funding per year. It is estimated that, with the current funding formula and LOB (Local Option Budget) requirements, property taxes could also rise by approximately $154 million.
It is interesting to observe that the court equates “suitable” education with a quantitative dollar amount. Not only this, but while looking at dollar amounts, they only pay attention to the BSAPP amount, which is merely 30% of total school funding. According to recent information put out by Education Week, the national average Per Pupil Expenditure (PPE) is $11,665. In contrast, Kansas’ PPE is more than $12,500, meaning that we spend more total per student than the national average, putting us at 16 for finance among the 50 states.
The governor, in his State of the State address, encouraged the legislature to pass a resolution amending the Article 6 of the Constitution to make it clear that it is the legislature, not the courts, who will determine for what constitutes “suitable provision” for funding public education.
While the court ruling specifying a specific dollar amount, particularly when that amount doesn’t even amount to 1/3 of the whole funding picture, is completely out of line, I do feel that the ambiguity in law involving the term “suitable” does not best serve the interests of the citizens of Kansas. We need to take a serious look at defining suitable if we’re ever to get a handle on this topic long term. In addition, it is important to note that Johnson County has never been served well under this funding formula, and we need to continue to push for a new funding formula.
As I have the past two years, I will continue to update you via Social Media on an almost daily basis. You can like my Facebook fan page HERE. You can follow me on Twitter HERE. Both of these feeds can also be found on my website.
Thank you for reading this week’s newsletter – if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.